Wow, middle-schoolers can be mean!
As kids slowly reach their teen years, they start displaying an increased desire for independence.
Meanwhile, chronic deficits in their self-esteem, an under-developed capacity for empathy and compassion, and, of course, raging hormones show up, as well. Good times!
It's all natural, of course, but when these conflicting things add up, the result is just plain nasty!
I am fortunate enough to have two such hormone-rangers in my home at this moment, and sometimes, I admit — it's tough. When they point their jabs at each other, I can put on my headphones or send them to another room and go about my business.
But, when they aren’t at each other’s throats, I am their next likely target.
As a mom, it’s difficult to get mad at them for being unkind because I remember what I felt like being 12 or 13. And so, I know that behavior from them isn't really about me. It isn’t their fault, and sometimes my kids are still really sweet and cute. These are my babies we’re talking about!
Still, it feels self-defeating and yucky being at the receiving end of their unpleasantness.
So, what's a mom to do?
The reality is — even if they're not at fault or doing it on purpose, we don’t deserve our kids' bullying. (Most of us do enough of that to ourselves.) So, if your pre-teen starts acting like a junior tyrant, here are seven effective ways to ease some of that tension:
1. Have some compassion.
Most of us remember what it was like to be a pre-teen and can identify completely. My brother’s description of me from age 12 –13 is: "Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, SLAM!" When you understand and sympathize with what your child is going through, than can help you overlook the "small stuff."
2. Take care of yourself.
Keep yourself healthy and positive. This is your shield against the barbs and jabs thrown in your direction, and is enough to get you through much unpleasantness.
3. Pick your battles.
Be savvy about the battles you join. For example, my daughter is very big on privacy — her room is her sanctuary and she wants the rest of us to respect that. I’ve chosen to enforce a similar boundary, not because I feel strongly about my room and privacy, but because it's a boundary she can more easily relate to and appreciate.
Find something that is important to your pre-teen, and turn it into a support for you. If they don’t like it when you raise your voice, make using calm voices a house rule.
4. Don’t take the bait.
This is another perspective on picking your battles. You do not have to participate in every argument.
5. Give yourself space.
There are times when I can easily keep my cool when my pre-teens act out or go to war. But, other times, my natural tendency is to jump in and fight. It’s not appropriate and it’s not fair (after all, I am bigger and more clever). In these moments, I need space from them. So, I take a time out until I know I can respond in a conscious and supportive way.
6. Be firm and direct.
Let your kids know that it's inappropriate when they lash out at you in a hurtful way. Your feelings are valid, too. And your kids are old enough to learn about empathy. Establish a house policy around kindness and hold everyone to it. Find a way to handle the situation in the moment (logic and reason may not work with intense emotion) and then create a space to debrief later.
For example, if your child says something hurtful and lashes out, don't just say, "Ouch." Let them know that you refuse to stay and take their attack, then walk out of the room. Later, when things have calmed down, have a conversation about how it felt for you. Encourage empathy, expect an apology, and figure out a way for them to handle the situation in a different way in the future. What are "safe" ways to express anger?
7. Call in reinforcements.
Sometimes we need to call in the big guns and play the "don’t mess with me" card. There is nothing wrong with asking another adult to come into the situation and facilitate. Or, in some cases, put their foot down and state the obvious that what's happening is just not OK.
I distinctly remember being reprimanded as a pre-teen by my Dad for being mean to my Mom. In our house, such actions had strict consequences.
Through it all, find a way to keep things in perspective.
Even though it is a normal part of a child’s developmental process, you can manage it, and you deserve to stay supported and safe. After all, you need to be ready when they ask to start driving the car in a few years!
Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, founders of ImpactADHD.com, teach/write about practical strategies to parents of “complex” kids with ADHD and related challenges. To help your kids find the motivation to get anything done, download their free parent’s guide, The Parent’s Guide to Motivating Your Complex Child.
This article was originally published at Impact ADHD. Reprinted with permission from the author.